THE NEW YORKER: As dramatic as the insurgents’ approach has been, it is not terribly surprising. They have fed on the deep discontent that prevails across the Sunni heartland, provoked and sustained by Maliki. Since the last American forces departed, he has embarked on a stridently sectarian project aimed at marginalizing the Sunni minority. He has presided over the arrest of his Sunni political opponents, jailed thousands of Sunni men, and excluded the Sunni population from any meaningful role in government. The Sunni Finance Minister, Rafe al-Essawi, fled the capital; the Sunni Vice-President, Tariq al-Hashemi, fled the country and faces a death sentence if he returns. When the Sunnis rose up in anger, as they did in Falluja and elsewhere, Maliki ordered the Army to shell civilian areas and detain more Sunni men. Ever since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s Sunnis have been faced with the choice of pledging their allegiance to the Shiite-led government in Baghdad or to the armed groups within their own community. Ordinary Sunnis may find the insurgents’ methods barbaric—during the occupation, Sunni leaders helped the Americans crush Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia—but the relentless sectarianism of the government in Baghdad has confirmed for many of them that they have no place in Maliki’s Iraq. The Kurds in the north of Iraq have pulled away from the rest of the country; as the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites becomes an explicit land war, Iraq threatens to break apart. […] In any case, the real questions are political, and they center on Maliki. Obama suggested that his offer of help would be determined by the progress the Iraqis make in knitting the country back together. The President didn’t say it, but he almost certainly wants Maliki to step down, and American diplomats in Baghdad appear to have begun signalling such a desire to other Iraqi leaders. This will be no easy thing. Maliki, whose self-regard has ballooned during his eight years in office, will very likely try to prevent his Shiite competitors from marshalling the support they need to unseat him. (As long as they can’t, he will remain in the job.) And he has very likely appealed to his backers in Iran, who have assisted him in his sectarian project. Removing Maliki would deal the Iranians a blow as well. In 2003, when American troops first rolled into Baghdad, they destroyed the Iraqi state and its institutions; for the next eight and a half years they tried to build something to replace it. The truth is that the political system imposed on the Iraqis has never worked very well without substantial U.S. involvement; since the Americans left, it hasn’t worked at all. MORE
THE GUARDIAN: The Clanging of the Swords IV sounds like the latest in a series of Hollywood action movies. It looks like one, too. A feature-length film released online a few weeks ago, Swords IV includes a slow-motion bomb sequence reminiscent of The Hurt Locker, aerial footage that nods to Zero Dark Thirty, and scenes filmed through the crosshairs of a sniper rifle that wouldn’t look out of place in a first-person shoot-’em-up. But Hollywood this is not. Perhaps surprisingly, The Clanging of the Swords IV is the work of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis), the extremist jihadist group that has led the insurgency against the authoritarian Iraqi government in recent weeks, and which runs parts of northern Syria. Isis want the people living in the lands they now control to return to the ultraconservative traditions that – they claim – the earliest Muslims lived by. Yet this regressive goal is accompanied by a hypermodern propaganda machine that sees Isis’s sadistic attacks promoted by a slick social media operation, a specially designed app – and well-made videos like The Clanging of the Swords IV.
When Isis stormed Iraq‘s second city of Mosul earlier this month, analysts say their propaganda made the fighting easier. In wars gone by, advancing armies smoothed their path with missiles. Isis did it with tweets and a movie. Thousands of their Twitter followers installed an app – called the Dawn of Glad Tidings – that allows Isis to use their accounts to send out centrally written updates. Released simultaneously, the messages swamp social media, giving Isis a far larger online reach than their own accounts would otherwise allow. The Dawn app pumps out news of Isis advances, gory images, or frightening videos like Swords IV – creating the impression of a rampant and unstoppable force. And it works, Iraqis say. When Isis stormed Mosul, Iraqi soldiers fled their posts, apparently aware that they would face a gruesome fate if they were captured while on duty. “The video was a message to Isis’s enemies,” says Abu Bakr al-Janabi, an Iraqi Isis supporter who moved to the EU recently because of the ban on social media sites in Iraq. He claims to have knowledge of the group’s media operations. “It’s Isis saying to them: look what will happen to you if you cross our path. And it actually worked: a lot of soldiers deserted once they saw the black banners of Isis.” MORE
THE OBSERVERS: Aerial shots, slow-motion explosions, scenes filmed through a rifle’s crosshairs… You might think this is footage from a new summer blockbuster, but you would be wrong. It is, in fact, a new propaganda video produced by Sunni jihadists from the armed group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The extremely violent hour-long film was published online just days before ISIS launched a massive offensive in northern Iraq. The film is called “The Clanging of the Swords IV”. The Roman numeral is there because, much like with Hollywood blockbusters, the film is part of a series. This one was first published on Internet forums heavily frequented by ISIS members, and was then reposted on the group’s official Twitter account on May 17, 2014. The opening sequence pans in on a map of the fictitious geographic zone that the ISIS fighters call the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria”, which encompasses Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and Iraq. This is followed by footage from a drone flying over Fallujah, an Iraqi city that ISIS has controlled since early 2014. Then, a rocket launch is heard, as if to mark the start of the “action”. (The full-length, original video can be viewed here). MORE